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From Graduation to Grad School: How AmeriCorps Changed My Life Path

October 27, 2011

Today’s guest post comes from Courtney Nikolay who served as an AmeriCorps VISTA at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee from 2009-2010 and recently completed the Students in Service program. She is currently a second-year graduate student at Oregon State University and spends most of her time speaking, writing, reading, or dreaming about service.

I remember the days leading up to graduation in May of 2008. With a degree in International Studies, I was beyond excited to apply for the most interesting jobs all over the world. However, as many recent college students will discover, the feeling of graduating goes from absolute exhilaration to extreme panic. I believed that my degree symbolized preparation and readiness for what seemed to be the next step: full-time work.

After about a year of applying for local, national, and international jobs, while waiting tables part time, I felt frustrated, unfulfilled, and stuck in a rut. I wasn’t passionate or proud of the work I was doing. Although I was serving people, I wasn’t serving in the right capacity. Instead of donating my time and money to others, I spent hours applying for different jobs or spending my earnings on material items to fill a void in my life.

Fortunately, I was offered an AmeriCorps*VISTA position with Wisconsin Campus Compact and the timing could not have been more perfect.

During my year of service at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I found what most people spend their entire lives looking for: Purpose.

I jumped out of bed every morning with a spring in my step ready to help educate others about how to serve their communities. As an AmeriCorps*VISTA, I became more invested in the city in which I was living as my role was to become engulfed in the community and its needs. The more I learned, the more I became invested in the community and with the wonderful organizations working to serve Milwaukee.

After only a month, I knew from my toes to my earlobes that I had discovered something special. AmeriCorps*VISTA brought back purpose, passion, action, compassion, and empowerment to my life. Although my first major experiences as a college graduate weren’t expected or ideal, my service term brought me on a new path in life.

Realizing the knowledge and skills I gained during my VISTA term, I applied to several graduate programs in Higher Education Administration in hopes of working as a student affairs professional in the areas of community service and service-learning. Currently, I am studying at Oregon State University as a second-year Graduate Assistant in the Center for Civic Engagement, working with a great staff of undergraduate students who are committed to providing service opportunities to their peers.

Though I am graduating in June, I am by no means done with my terms of service. In fact, I recently completed 300 volunteer hours for the Students in Service program at OSU and I will be applying to become a trip leader with AmeriCorps* NCCC next year. Ultimately, I can see myself working for the Corporation for National and Community Service or as a director for a community service office at an institution of higher education.

Being an AmeriCorps*VISTA wasn’t just a year-long break to figure out what I really wanted to do.

For me, AmeriCorps*VISTA provided the best 365 days of my life, and without it, I would not be living out my dreams of learning, educating, and serving others.          

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